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As the Microsoft Flight Simulator went back to the skies

Let’s play a quick word association game: Microsoft – Windows? Excel? Xbox? All answers firm. But for me, for a while in the 90s, I would have been immediately answered “Flight Simulator.” Microsoft Flight Simulator it’s the first thing I can remember ever doing on a computer, sitting on my grandparents ’lap as they climbed around blocky landscapes along with a Sidewinder joystick. It is one of Microsoft’s all-time iconic brands.

It’s also a brand that the company has more or less overlooked in the last decade-plus. Last release, Flight Simulator X, was released in 2006, and a few years later, its developer, Aces Game Studio, was shut down as part of widespread layoffs at Microsoft. Called 201

2 a spin-free-to-play Microsoft flight it was less than well received.

In a few weeks, though, Microsoft is releasing perhaps the biggest upgrade to the series in its 38-year history. The new title, developed by the French studio Asobo and simply named Microsoft Flight Simulator, is an ambitious attempt to nurture Microsoft’s Bing Maps data and Dwejra-powered procedural generation technology to render our planet with unprecedented detail.

I’ve been playing a pre-release alpha version for a few weeks, and it’s frankly amazing. This is a full throttle effort by Microsoft to recreate the natural world and the magic of flight. And while carrying the weight of an iconic series, it feels like it’s coming from nowhere. Why Microsoft is revived Flight Simulator now?

“It simply came to our notice then Flight Simulator XHonestly, I think we’ve just become more and more focused on Xbox and essentially just gave up the team at the time, ”the head of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Jorg Neumann, tell me. “Why did we take so long to return? Honestly, I’ve been with Microsoft for a good long time, and the desire to do another flight sim has really always been there. And people talked about it in the hallways, but it was always, ‘What are we going to add? What should we say? You know, can we actually take a significant step forward? “”

In more recent years, Neumann has been working on projects for HoloLens, the ear of Microsoft’s augmented reality. A demonstration called HoloTour, which lets players fly around Rome and Machu Picchu, marked the first collaboration with Microsoft’s Bing Maps team. “I remember the first time I put my ear to it, the noises and sounds were so real,” Neumann recalls. “I mean, I’ve never been to Peru, but it was real for me. And even then, in early 2016 or something. I thought to myself, ‘Man, if we could just do this all over the planet, it wouldn’t be any thing? ‘ “

In 2017, Neumann contacted Asobo and asked if they would be awarding the project. Using data from the city of Seattle’s Microsoft, which Bing Maps referred to a five-centimeter resolution with photogrammetry, Asobo took a few weeks to bring together a demo of a Cessna flight center. Neumann then showed up to Phil Spencer, VP at the time who is now the head of Xbox.

“He just looked at me and said,‘ Why are you showing me a Seattle video by plane? Neumann says. “And then the plane turned, and flew onto the Microsoft campus where we were sitting at that exact moment. And he looks like, “Is it in this real time? Is this going on?” And I like, “Yes, it is!” And we knew we had something special. “

Showing a video of someone flying an airplane on a Seattle photorealistic is one thing, but convincing the player flying the plane themselves is quite another. Although Asobo has never developed a sim flight before, Neumann thought the team would be good for technical reasons. Asobo had been sent earlier Fuel, An 2009 all-terrain open-world racer who used procedural techniques and satellite data to create what was then the largest video game environment to date.

“We’ve spent a long, long time ingesting what it’s like to tap, what it means to be a simmer, what you want planting,” says Martial Bossard, Asobo’s co-founder. “So we’ve embraced what it’s like to bring a sim to the community, from going to flight school and understanding exactly what it takes to be on the plane. You just have to go to a flight club, and you can talk to these the kind of people. They’re so passionate about what they’re doing. And you know, we weren’t starting out. I got the same story as you – I started working with flight sims. “

Neumann quickly points out that Asobo wasn’t starting from scratch. “I sent them Flight Simulator X a machine, ”he laughs. “And the great thing was, they integrated the sim that we had one piece at a time. And pretty much from the first day it worked. You know, sometimes you work on a product and for the first two years, nothing works. In this case in point, we could literally fly one day and just hit the different systems, which I think were fundamental. “

I will say this about it Microsoft Flight Simulator in its current state: it’s very much a flight simulator – no more, no less. The focus so far has been clearly on the flight model and the underlying technology, and I think it’s for the best. Flying with a stick feels good, and the visuals have no comparison. Reactive weather and clouds are a particular factor. In the afternoon, I just flew over to my parents ’house in loaded England and felt like I was home. Being able to do this in the same package that allows you to look for animals while flying over the African savannah is something special.

At this point, the detail of Flight Simulatorthe world is not evenly distributed. Microsoft’s top quality data doesn’t cover all regions of the world, which means you have to bind a lot manually, and unique items like landmarks and bridges have to be built by hand because they can’t be generated. with AI. I noticed this mostly when I flew around my present home in Tokyo and caught a lot of famous buildings, but aimed at my former city of Osaka and know almost nothing.

“I think we’re going to get there almost everywhere,” Neumann says. “Commercial aircraft don’t fly anywhere, and some areas of the world are considered a little more remote. But those are actually the areas I’m going to focus on because you know Western Europe and the United States is good. , right? But we have to focus on other areas because we think people weren’t there, aviation didn’t go there. There’s a lot of fascinating ground. And I mean, I think we can really inspire. “

“I am spending a lot of time in Africa now. I like to fly because it’s cool. And I just think we’re taking the flight industry shaking forward if we deliver those areas with high quality because it’s been neglected. There are all these third companies for decades now, they have done tons and tons of things, like a thousand airports or so have been modeled and 1,500 aircraft. But when you look at its geographical distribution, it’s not equal. And I think it should be – like really, this is going to be on my bucket list: “Make South America awesome.” It will be on my bucket list. “

For me, the thought of flying a beautiful rendition of our planet has an obvious mainstream appeal that I’m a little surprised that Microsoft has stuck so hard with the stripped flight sim model. Despite the Bing link, for example, you’re essentially taking off at one airport and landing in another country with little in the way of basic map navigation. I found myself flying with Google Maps open on an iPad whenever I wanted to look for a particular monument. Bossard says the focus was on producing a “sim for simmers first,” with Bing data initially used to help produce flight plans and work on technical airport navigation data, but the studio is looking at integrating it into other layers as well.

Despite Microsoft Flight SimulatorHowever, it is inevitable that this version will be checked out by a wide audience of people who may have never tried a sim flight before. It’s launching on the PC version of the Xbox Game Pass, for one thing, and there’s even a version for Xbox consoles later on – first for the dealership. Microsoft also announced today that VR support is coming to the PC version, which could further enlarge the user base. How Microsoft Plans to Introduce Flight Simulator to a new audience?

“Carefully,” says Neumann, who repeats Bossard’s “sim for simmers” language. “Because if you forget and start thinking about bigger audiences or gamers and those kinds of things, you lose focus on what’s at your core. When we talk about what I said, people who might be new to sims , we call them new, not gamers.Because we specifically left the sim in its open sandbox state, which is important for simmers.And instead of smoothing anything down, we left the simulation exactly as it is in reality and went for assistance and tutorials and those kinds of things to help those who are still on board. “

I also wonder how Microsoft Flight Simulator will work on Xbox consoles from a technical perspective. I have a pretty good PC and a fast internet connection, which is important for streaming data, but I didn’t always have solid frame rates and visuals when working at 1440p even on average settings. On one flight, I left JFK and started flying north from the southern tip of Manhattan. At first everything looked good, but when I found the Chrysler Building, some building blocks had not yet rendered properly and looked like a mess. This is alpha software, so you shouldn’t take this as a review, but if you’re unsure of your PC’s capabilities, it may be a good idea to try the Game Pass version first.

“We basically tried to make it an affordable simulator,” says Neumann. “Some people are speculating that you need some kind of supercomputer to run it. That’s definitely not the case. There are some pretty modest video cards and computers. And I think it’s very similar on Xbox where there’s a whole spectrum between Xbox One and Xbox Series X. There is ongoing optimization regardless, but Xbox is sure to reinvigorate our optimization efforts, it’s probably the best way to say it.

Microsoft Flight Simulator i can’t please everyone. No doubt there will be tough members from the flight community who find that certain things are missing, while others new to the idea may find it great. But what Microsoft has been shipping since day one seems like an incredible technical achievement, one with such a compelling central idea that it should be easy to appreciate the release for what it is.

And this is only the first step. “When I bought this product, the only thing Phil did [Spencer] He told me it was, “Hey, Jorg, if we go, we’ll keep going,” “Neumann says.” We know we can’t just go make a product and make it and do something else. This is not how it works. Here we are taking responsibility for a hobby, and people trust us and know it. It is our oldest franchise in the company. It is older than Windows and Office. It has a special place. “

“I often struggle to find the right words – I think there’s some kind of intrinsic human desire to fly. I don’t know if it’s a flight or if the change in perspective, I don’t know what it is, but something “There’s something really special about how you see initially where you live from a different perspective, and then you go to other places. It has nothing to do with simulation, even. I can show it to his children. My father is 91. Almost anyone can relate to it because it’s real. It’s so close that you feel real. “

Microsoft Flight Simulator is coming to Windows 10, Steam and Xbox Game Pass on August 18th.

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